Friday, January 16, 2009

Perhaps it's normal.

I remember the first time I tasted my tears.

I grasped my fork, with my left hand, sat up straight in my chair and glared at my father. His stern stare made it clear that my pointer finger wasn't gracefully placed on the top of the fork as he would like it to be. I allowed my tears to fall upon my pre-adolescent face and onto my Guess jeans. I turned to my mother for acceptance and she looked away signifying that she was on my father's side. "That is how we do it."

"Why can't we be normal? Why can't we be more American?" I bawled.

I don't remember what he said that night during our family dinner as he was teaching me how to properly use utensils the European way. I do remember what my tears tasted like. As the first born child of immigrant parents I have a thousand memories of the hardships of assimilating and my struggles in finding my place. I am pretty sure that my younger sister has no recollection of the refugee camp we lived in.

I am the oldest child of immigrants.

This past summer my children lived in the same communistic apartment block I grew up in. In between those two walls, this summer, I searched for my place in the world. Am I Polish? Am I American? Who am I and what do I want my kids to be? It was exhausting.

And now. A mere 12 hours before I leave for Chicago to stay under my parent's roof for four days I frantically run around my house packing the warmest wool socks, and the cleanest cotton pajamas, and an assortment of proper white under shirts hoping that my parents will not criticize the upbringing of my children. I have told my mother to hush and relax and enjoy her time with her American grandchildren.

Because now, I am the oldest child of immigrants, with her own children.

And as I pack for our trip, I imagine the road I have paved for my younger sister and brother every time I tell my mother to hush and relax, "This is the American way. Mac and Cheese will not kill them." And I see my sweet beautiful mom cringe when I mention Kraft and my father come home from work with packages of goose-liver pate and goat cheese croissants and I know that I am home. The excited look in my father's eyes as he bends down to offer the Feenster a poopy-seed roll to convert her to his ways and the look in her eyes as she spits it out and proclaims, "YUCK! I no like."

We have come a long way together assimilating into the American culture. There are things that I do that they don't like and there are things that they do and I don't like. And. After months of soul searching, I have come to realize that I still have no idea where I belong as I force the fork into my son's left hand and I cringe when I realize that I am somewhat criticizing him and his ways.

The things that made me cry, have now become semi-important. "The fork belongs in your left hand, handsome." Why, my six year old asked looking up to me so I answered, "That is how we do it, handsome."

Perhaps it's not so much an immigrant thing. Perhaps it's accepting your childhood. Perhaps it's accepting and realizing the value. Perhaps it's universal....

You know you
are a mother when you stop criticizing the way your mother raised you.

66classy comments:

Miss said...

Oh sweetie. You are everything that you have made yourself to be. You are a beautiful strong Polish American Woman who is gracefully raising 3 lovely children who will be a perfect blend of American culture and Polish traditions.

And you are doing it with class.

xoxoxo have safe travels. Love to all of you!

michellany said...

Assimilation and finding your place IS difficult...and without meaning to minimize that, I hope you can also see the tremendous gifts you have been given, that you can now pass on to your children: exposure to another culture/traditions, indeed the knowledge that there ARE other cultures, that there are different (and equally valid) ways of doing things (like holding your fork!)

Personally, I think the 'continental' way of eating is much more practical - and classy! - than the way we Yanks do it... ;-)

Beautiful post. Thank you for sharing it.

Chiloe said...

I am the grand daughter of polish immigrants and I'm married to a mexican and we are now living in France. Two of my children were born in the US, one in France. We try to speak three languages at home and teach them their mixed cultures is a gift, not a burden. For having lived in three different countries, I came to the conclusion that you are where you were raised. My mom never felt polish, she always feels french (denial here? ) I also think the world is more open now to accept different cultures. It also depends on where you live: in the US, people have to fit into categories: even my blue eyes blond hair boy is hispanic for the US. We are all citizens of the world !!!

No culture is more important than another one. My children have traditions from three countries and I think it makes them special. It's also a choice that us, parents, made. YOur children are very lucky you can share some of your parents traditions, habits. They will become adults who are aware the world is a big place full of opportunities (not like those americans who don't even where Europe is ...) Keep teaching them how lucky they are ;-)

Have fun at your parents !!!

Vic said...

So many people emigrate and forget their roots. You should be proud that you still hold on to yours and are imparting little bits of your Polish culture to your family.

♥spoiled mommy♥ said...

Very sweet.
I liked this post a lot.

Indy said...

I am so glad that last year I got to a place where I realized my mom was doing the best she could where she was at the time. Peace. Once I figured that out and stopped blaming her, I saw her in a new light. I hope it doesn't take my kids 36 years to figure it out. But with what just happeneded, I am lucky to have figured it out at all.

Indy said...

P.S. There was a whole episode of the Real Housewives of Orange Country this week where one lady (aka Bimbo) tried to learn how to hold her fork the continental style. She learned all sorts of etiquette lessons, held a dinner party and then got her friend really drunk on tequila. Very classy. What a waste of etiquette lessons!

Krystyn said...

You were raised to be you...fabulous and wonderful...and well, you. And, you will raise your children to be themselves, too.

They will be Polish and American...and OHmommy's kids.

I can't relate to coming from another country, but I'm sure it's the same as any other thing that your parents make you do that your friends didn't have to do. And, we don't realize the importance until we want to teach them to our kids!

Even if they don't thank you now (and maybe there are some tears), one day, they will!

Have a safe trip!

Prefers Her Fantasy Life said...

I always feel a bit envious of folks who are multi-cultural. I started Irish step-dancing eleven years ago and tease my family (Spousal Unit is 7/8 Irish, making our children...ah, some fraction of Irish I'm unable to do this early in the morning), anyway I always tease them--Let the English person bring the Irish culture to this family!

As for your mom and dad, yes, we all tend to conflict with our parents' notions of living, being and raising our kids.

Yet, your dad seems so much more interesting than mine who would sit in front of the football game yelling at the TV during family gatherings.

With a Bud in his hand.

Yep. A bit too much American in him.

mommynotes said...

I agree with what Miss said in your first comment here. I will also add we are all immigrants at some point in our lives. What I mean is we may have been born hear but maybe our father or father's father was born in another country. This is why I love America because we are a melting pot of cultures.

I also find myself repeating what I said I never would "because I said so". I always said I would explain why I was doing something but in the middle of a tense battle with my 6 year old or 2 year old I would yell out "Because I said so and what I say goes". I felt like my parents all over again sometimes never getting a reason other than that when kids just tend to be curious and why you are saying not to do something. It is a logical assumption but I have fallen into that trap. I think we all become our mother's or father's at some point in parenthood.

Thank you for your honesty. I think all of us are searching at some level to find our way as people, as parents, as women. Thank you for a lovely post!

krissy said...

I think you are a happy mix of both a immigrant and a American mother. You can teach your children a great combination of the two. Well done.

In a sense, you are the lucky one. Some people have no idea where they came from, who their ancestors are or what nationality they hide in their blood. I am a hound dog, mixed with everything from Russian to German to American Indian to Czech to French. Ha.

Kel said...

You are both cultures blended and that is what makes you Unique! You are you, no one else is quite like you and so will be your children, being 'part' of our parents isn't so bad...I mean, we did turn out ok, so obviously they did something right?

:)
~K

Jessica said...

Safe Travels. Stay Warm!

LceeL said...

You are not so much Polish or American as you are a Woman and a Mother. Those last two come first. The first two are window dressing.

We wrap ourselves in culture to give ourselves a sense of belonging - of identity. But you have an identity before the cloak of culture is laid across your shoulders. You are Woman, and Mother, and Wife and Daughter. The Polish American stuff comes later.

Rhea said...

I think you're doing a lot better job finding yourself than you realize.

You.are.OhMommy. :o)

3 Peanuts said...

I love these posts of self discovery. And tell the Feenster to pass the ate and goat cheese croissants...I do like them!

Kim

Have a great trip:)

Courtney said...

Safe traveling to you and your family.

You amaze me with your classy, graceful words. You are an amazing mother and daughter!

Blessings From Above said...

I love that you are so "cultured" and are exposing your children to their heritage - what a beautiful gift!

Have a safe trip. Hopefully Chicago will be a little warmer than Cleveland. It is FREEZING here.

Amy @ Milk Breath and Margaritas said...

Lovely post!

Safe travels to you and stay warm!!

Brea in Texas said...

You know you are a mother when you stop criticizing the way your mother raised you.

Oh, amen to that, sister!! Great post. :)

~Brea

Momo Fali said...

It's hard enough to find your place in this world without having to deal with culture differences. I think you're doing a great job.

Have a wonderful trip.

Jo said...

How right you are. Same struggles over here honey. The grandparents are always worried about the food intake and dziadziu does not look kindly on any polish school being missed. But it is a beautiful thing, our culture and country. We are so blessed to have the best of both worlds. Great post!

Angie [A Whole Lot of Nothing] said...

I honestly never thought of it that way. STOP criticizing how SHE raised ME. As moms, we're doing the best for our kids the best way we know how at the time.

Prophetic.

Stephanie said...

Or rather, you know you're a mother when you stop criticizing and learn from our parents mistakes. I think this is the best gift any of us can give our children!

Jill said...

This definitely brought a few tears to my eyes!

Perfectly placed post - especially as my daughters and I had a HUGE discussion on table manners again tonight.. (both my husband and I grew up with strict table manners... though you rarely see them with kids these days).

I wish you a great weekend with your family! Enjoy every moment. :)

Ashley said...

I really like the part at the end where you say maybe we all go through this. I was born in the United States and while I have no idea what it's like to be an immigrant, I do know what it's like to feel lost - and to have my own set of ideals when it comes to raising my children. I also know what it's like to suddenly realize that maybe your parents were a little bit right after all, or at least you see where they came from...

Have some happy and safe travels!

Tracey said...

Have a good visit with your parents. But girl, it is COLD to come to Chicago!

Domestic Extraordinaire said...

wonderful post! Now I am just wondering how one would hold their fork in their left hand. Must google this now.

You are a wonderful, classy wife & mother.

Momo-Mama said...

I haven't quite "stopped crtiticizing", but i do find that I am a lot more like my mother than I ever expected myself to be!

Legallyblondemel said...

Beautifully, wonderfully said.

Tiaras and Tantrums said...

oh your father sounds like mine - he was very - VERY - German - and at the table - oh, just let me tell you. There was NO funny business! I eat with my left too - as does my husband - it was one of the first things we noticed about each other! And now, lucky me- I have two lefties!!

Zoeyjane said...

I'm guessing this means I'm not a mother yet ;)

This was a great post, hun.

Flea said...

I hope your time is both relaxing and eye opening. Enjoy your parents for who they are. See them as adults. See yourself as an adult. A beautiful, well adjusted adult, with gorgeous kids and a loving husband. You've made good choices. Live in them.

Texan Mama @ Who Put Me In Charge said...

Know what I like best about this post? It's that I know you are not giving your children empty tradition. You live your heritage every day and you embrace it. You are teaching your children about where they came from and WHO they came from. I think you've even gone a big step further by taking them to Poland to see their roots. I can only imagine... it must be hard to be stuck in between two worlds. But, if it's any consolation, your children are in the best situation: a wonderful view of the past through your eyes, and an eager view of the future through their own. They can chart their own course, with you to guide them. You are one amazing navigator, OH.

TheCynicalOptimist said...

Wow, great post! Good luck in Chicago! And i think it's great that your children are learning about their heritage along the way!

Junebug said...

Oh, you are so interesting to be Polish and American. My daughter is naming her first-born Lola. That is also my grandmother's name. This will be my first grandchild.

Mom2Amara said...

I grew up asking for to be changed (I wanted something less "ethnic"), wanting to eat something other than rice, and also needing to be more "normal." But because my parents wanted me to be assimilated into a certain society, they obliged.

Now I advocate Amara takes in all she can about being Filipino-American. And now my parents join me in teaching her that we can still be proud of her heritage.

You know you're grown up when you work hand in hand with your mother on child rearing :)

Have a safe trip. And stay warm!

Bethany said...

Sounds to me like you're doing a great job...in life and in motherhood.

GrannySmithGreen said...

Beautifully written. Glad to have found your blog. Feel free to come by mine for a visit. You are certainly welcome!

the planet of janet said...

beautifully said. it actually took me a long time to realize that the dysfunctionality of my high-pressure, never-good-enough upbringing was really a matter of my parents doing the best they could.

it also makes me a better mom. certainly a more accepting one.

Ali said...

i still criticize the way my mother raised me. mostly because she was kind of a shitty mother.

amanda said...

have fun in chicago. a few hours south of me. :0) good thing it will be warmer this weekend!! a beautiful post.

Burgh Baby said...

Have a great time, and remember not to sweat the small stuff. Left hand, right hand, who really cares? *mwah*

Jessica said...

OhMommy, there were SO many things that I HATED about what my parents taught me & now I find myself expecting those SAME things out of my sister (different set of parents). I know what you mean! :)

Lisa@verybusymomwith4 said...

This is one of those things I can't relate too--we have been here since pre-revolution. I wish I got it but I don't.
I do think it is neat to learn other traditions. You always learn something you might use. I can see the point of the fork rather thank just holding it with the left when you cut and then making sure you pass it over to your right tongues down (or was that up?!). My question--what do you do with the dessert fork and if you are a leftie, do you still hold a spoon and cut with your right?
Our big table manners are elbows--no elbows ever ;) Oh and 'newspaper' discussion. We always had to discuss a news article. Real fun (eyes roll)

The Daily Stroll said...

"You know you are a mother when you stop criticizing the way your mother raised you"

There have been many times I have sorted back through some of my childhood memories and criticized things my mother and/or father did as I was growing up but even those small little imperfections of my childhood do not outweigh the love, the respect and the confidence my parents taught me that has made me into the person I am today. These characteristics are what I hope to also teach my children.

You are a Polish American that seems to be teaching her children the same values so there are some traditions that appear to be standard across every culture! I think you are doing a fabulous job and you are doing it with class!

Have a safe trip and enjoy your time with your parents!

MIT Mommy said...

I didn't scratch the surface of what it meant to be an American until I stood in a rural village in Japan, spending time with "family" who knew me only in Japanese. Countless passport stamps later, it is easier to see that those who stand out wish to fit in and those who "fit in" (if they even know it) wish to stand out. I think it is that tension that makes America what it is. And, it is what you do with that tension that makes you who you are.

But, of course, you already know all of that . . . which is why you rock.

Have fun!

Domestic Goddess (In Training) said...

Wow... that last sentence was extremely profound.

Janah @ So Not Mom-a-licious said...

Oh so true and very well said! This was a great post!

Jaina said...

Great post. Have a wonderful time at your parents'!

crunchiemummy said...

Yeah for forks in the left hand! We have that same battle in our household -- I tell my boys it is the classy way to eat your meal! Great post.

carrie said...

So, so true and you're right, it is universal.

You should have been sitting at our dinner table last night as (and I admit that I sounded just like my father here) I said to the kids, "And where to our napkins go?" And then three pairs of hands picked up their cloth napkins and laid them on their laps. :)

Tara R. said...

As I get older, and my children get older, I find I am falling back on my own mother's words more often. I am becoming my mother, but it's not such a bad transformation.

This was a wonderful post.

Steph @ Diapers and Divinity said...

This is a beautiful post that makes me think about the traditions I pass on, cultural or not. Thanks.

Marinka said...

You know that I so relate to this. The journey of becoming American while not wholly rejecting your roots is a struggle.I also feel very defensive of America, Kraft and all. It stings to read your children's rejection of poppy seed rolls. Please reassure your parents that I will eat any surplus.

I hope that you have a wonderful visit.

Elisa said...

It's so strange to go back home, isn't it? To go back when you are an adult, when you have been living elsewhere, then later when you are married and have your own children.

I never feel self-assured when I am at my parent's house. I always feel like I am in someone else's domain, like I am still a teenager and I *think* I am old enough to make my own decisions, but I'm not, really.

But then I taste the tastes of home and a enjoy the Sardinian sun. And then it feels like home, no matter how long I have been away.

just jamie said...

You are the most lovable Polish-American-Mother I know. This much I know.

(And poopy-seed rolls, huh? I no like either.) :)

Irene said...

I have mentioned this before, but my family is 100% Russian - my grandparents were all immigrants. My parents lived in a Russian neighborhood. Their parents spoke Russian. They went to a Russian church. They ate Russian foods. So I really know where you are coming from (other than my parents were born in the US).

Now my kids are baptized as Russian Orthodox, and they do have some familiarity of Russian customs and foods from my side of the family. But the fact is that they are half NOT Russian. So they are quickly losing the heritage. And if they don't marry a Russian, it will almost all be lost. It really tears at my heart to think my kids aren't as Russian as I am. I love having such a heritage. It makes me feel grounded. And it is nice to know there is a country out there full of my family members.

Oh, and my grandparents all used to eat with their fork in their left hand pointed down. I think it is actually a European thing.

Have a great one!!!!

McMommy said...

Soooo.....I'm pretty sure what you are trying to tell me is....you hold your wine glass in your LEFT hand?

The White House said...

You are a wonderful daughter and mother, cherishing and valuing all that is classy and embracing the Kraft!

momof3crazykids said...

You and your posts. I love them!
Thanks for letting us into your lives. I hope you have a safe trip!!
Stay warm.

Hugs!

JCK said...

Beautiful.

CC said...

Sometimes tradition is just that. Tradition. and following it (at least as adults) helps us to remember our little place in the world. Even if the kids don't get it. yet.

Karen MEG said...

The mix of culture and traditions will do nothing but enrich the lives of your children. Assimilation is one thing... melting pot is a whole other thing. I am so glad that the world in which we live today embraces the differences somewhat more (I'm not kidding myself that there aren't still problems); but the fact that multi-culture is becoming more mainstream, or even the norm, is a very good thing.

I get the parental criticism, though, only too well. And am guilty of it on my own kids every so often ... I sound like my mom a bit too much for my liking at times.

Have a great time during your visit, though. I know you will :)

Amy said...

As a child of an immigrant, I totally understand this post. It's hard to have two worlds combine, but I love my heritage!

And isn't it a bitter pill to swallow, the day you finally realize that your mother was right?

DysFUNctional Mom said...

I love reading about your traditions. Great post.

 

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